Germany Leads the Way in Sustainable Energy

Germany traditionally has been a leader in sustainability. German citizens were pioneers in recycling, the country’s public transport is cheap and efficient, cities are bike-friendly and the German Green Party is a force to be reckoned with. Over the last few years Germany has carved out a leading position as a beacon of renewable energy with ambitious targets and clear political leadership for the sector.

Last year, in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, Germany immediately announced it would abandon its nuclear plans and switch off older power stations, responding to concerns from a nuclear-averse German public. To fill in the gap left by nuclear, the country decided to pursue an aggressive policy to embrace sustainable energy forms, especially wind and solar power. The country now is reaping the results.

Today the media reported that Germany has a reached a world record of 22 GW of solar electricity per hour, the equivalent of 20 nuclear power stations at full capacity. The record was achieved through the midday hours on Friday and Saturday. This amount of energy met nearly 50 percent of the country’s electricity needs.

Around the same time last year, German’s installed solar power capacity was 14 GW. Altogether its total capacity totals 26 GW. The country concentrates almost 50 percent of the world’s solar power capacity, which provides four percent of its electricity needs, and it hopes to cut its emissions by 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2020.

Last year, a Nasdaq report said onshore wind power could supply Germany with 65 percent of its electricity if it dedicated two percent of its land area to wind farms. The study calculated that Germany’s wind power potential could reach 98 GW and 390 terawatt-hours. That beats by a large margin a nuclear output of 140 terawatt-hours in 2010. In 2011, German’s wind power capacity was 29,075 MW, or eight percent of the country’s electricity needs.

The German case shows that success to implement sustainable energy hinges on two main factors: strong policies and an educated public that understands the imperative of sustainability and its long-term benefits.

Image credit: TwitPic